Upon entering Mr. Gawedzinski’s room, anyone who had been there before could immediately detect a change. The room had a calmer vibe than before the summer. The change wasn’t on the walls; they were still cluttered with classic and modern paintings, literary and motivational posters, plaques and pictures. There was no change in the layout, nor was there a reduction in the mountains of the books piled on the shelves. The difference was, instead, on the ceiling. The tiles that used to be full of life were replaced with drab plaster covered ones.
Gawedzinski is one of several on campus that were told to remove their room’s previously decorated ceiling tiles. The decision was made by Duncanville’s new fire marshal Mike Trousdale who told the staff the painted tiles were a fire hazard in the room. Trousdale was not available for comment.
“They have many different stories (as to why the tiles were unsafe),” Gawedzinski said. “The first story was that the paint itself was flammable, and that was proven wrong. The second story was that the paint would somehow compromise the integrity of the fire-resistance of the tile, and that was proven wrong. The third story was that somehow, smoke damage would be more prominent. That was bizarre to begin with.”
Gawedzinski’s purpose for the ceiling tiles was educational. More than 10 years ago, his students began creating illustrations on the pieces to represent their novels. He said it has always been a successful and popular project.
“I don’t know how I’ll have my students complete the project now,” Gawedzinski said.
As for the previous tiles, Gawedzinski said he has run out of space to keep them all and has had to throw some away. The rest remain stowed away in his room.
“Thus, we are now faced with a ceiling of absolute, soul-deprived whiteness,” Gawedzinski said.
Art teacher John Tahaney was told that if the ceiling tile company provided a letter stating there was no danger, the ceiling tiles could stay. He was able to contact the company and get a letter vouching this, only to be informed that insurance would not cover any damage to the painted tiles.
“Basically, what it sounded like was, ‘They have to come down. Period.’,” Tahaney said.
Tahaney doesn’t understand why Duncanville would force the removal of the ceiling tiles when multiple other schools are still allowed same tradition.
“I have talked to other teachers and administrators who have the very same ceiling tiles with the same nontoxic and nonflammable paint on their ceilings in their classrooms and hallways,” Tahaney said. “I just don’t know (why our district would make such an unnecessary change).”
Also ordered to remove their tiles was the library. The library’s decorated tiles have been in place since 2011 when Ms. Valenzuela’s art class painted them to represent different children’s books.
“It will help make the library a more beautiful place,” librarian Jeni Tahaney said when the project began years ago. “If you look now, it looks sterile. It would be nice to have permanent decorations in the library.”
The library’s tiles have not been removed yet. Jeni Tahaney said they are waiting for the custodians to take them down. She hopes to keep them on display after their removal.
“Hopefully, when we bring them down, we’re going to put them on the walls or in the windows, or do something else with them,” Jeni Tahaney said.
Gawedzinski said he feels singled out.
“I have heard several stories of other people who still have ceiling tiles in their room,” Gawedzinski said. “I want them all to stay up there; I just find it perplexing that my class was the only one that maintenance came and physically removed the tiles from.”
John Tahaney said he is considering hosting a “wake” for the removed tiles in the library. He hopes the fire marshal would come and see the current students stand by their artwork.
“It would be a peaceful protest, and sort of a celebration of what was,” John Tahaney said. ”Maybe we’d get a change of heart.”